There is an oft-repeated phrase that is reputed to be a Chinese curse of ancient origin. “May you live in interesting times.”
To paraphrase the Parliamentarian Sir Austen Chamberlain, there is no doubt that ancient curse fell upon us in 2020.
As we were pulling together our annual wrap-up of the Most Important Developments in HR for 2020, we were reminded of those interesting times. A deadly virus took the lives of more than 300,000 Americans and shut down the economy. Riots for racial justice took to the streets after the murder of an unarmed Black man, and spilled into the workplaces as people demanded their companies walk their talk about diversity and inclusion. HR had to shoulder a fractured workplace in which everyone was working at home and fearing for the health of themselves and their families, and wondering if they’d have a job when the dust settled after the pandemic.
Can we find any positives amongst all of this chaos? I think we can. When this pandemic is defeated (and it will be defeated), the takeaways of what we’ve learned during this turbulent time can make companies and the people who work in them stronger.
Let’s just look at one lesson learned. Remote working. Companies that never considered allowing employees to work from home all or most of the time had to pivot on a dime, get their people the technology they needed and proceed with business as (un)usual in order to get the job done. It showed extraordinary agility, and demonstrated that employees didn’t need to sit in a cubicle from nine to five to be productive.
The aftershocks of that one thing will reverberate for a long time to come. Even when we can safely go back to the office, will we? I don’t think so. I think COVID-19 has permanently changed the way this country, and indeed, the world, works.
Employees won’t have to fight the daily commute as often. That means less of the stress, headaches, and wasted time that go with long suburban commutes. Employers can downsize their commercial space, shaving a big fixed cost. Business travel? Mercifully, there will be a higher bar for necessary travel.
We’re not out of the woods yet, but we can see the clearing from here. Here’s to a truly Happy New Year.